Fox & Farley, Attorneys at Law

What Happens When Tennessee Employers Ignore Safety Rules?

Workplace safety is a serious matter. Yet too many Tennessee employers treat federal and state safety regulations as optional. As a result, thousands of completely preventable accidents occur every year, leading to worker injuries.

‘Lax Approach to Supervision” Led to Tennessee Bridge Accident

For example, a federal appeals court recently upheld a U.S. Department of Labor action against a Tennessee employer whose disregard for safety standards led to a major highway construction accident. The Department enforces federal workplace safety standards through OSHA. When an accident occurs, OSHA investigates and has the power to issue a civil penalty against an employer that is found to be in non-compliance with applicable safety standards.

In this case, the employer was a contractor hired by the Tennessee Department of Transportation to build the new Highway 109 bridge in Gallatin, which opened in 2014. During construction the previous year, a boom cable one of the contractor’s construction crane’s snapped, which caused the vehicle’s overhead arm to collapse onto the highway itself. The snapped cable hit the crane operator’s cab, shattering its windows. Although another car was damaged in the accident, no workers or innocent bystanders were injured.

OSHA subsequently investigated the accident. Even though nobody was hurt, OSHA noted that “at least four people were exposed to the falling boom and cable.” More to the point, OSHA determined the contractor failed to follow federal safety regulations with respect to the snapped cable, also known as a “wire rope.”

According to evidence presented at an OSHA hearing, “at least three of [the contractor’s] employees had actual knowledge of the condition of the boom cable” prior to the accident. One of the contractor’s foremen had “observed broken wires in the cable” and filed multiple daily inspection reports documenting the need to replace the cable.

Beyond the employees’ “actual knowledge” of the cable’s deteriorating condition, OSHA said the contractor had “constructive knowledge” in that it should have known there was a likely safety hazard. OSHA noted the superintendent for the bridge project was supposed to review the foreman’s daily inspection reports and personally inspect (and replace) the cable. His failure to properly supervise the job site constituted a workplace safety violation on the part of the employer.

OSHA ultimately fined the contractor $60,000. The contractor appealed, but in a June 3 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the Labor Department’s decision. The appeals court said there was “substantial evidence that the [contractor] took a lax approach to supervision regarding the crane and that reasonable diligence would have revealed the deficiency” that led to the accident.

Have You Been Injured on the Job?

Fortunately the accident above did not result in any worker injury or loss of life. But if you have been injured due to improper workplace safety standards, it is important you speak with a qualified Tennessee personal injury lawyer who can advise you of your legal rights. Contact the offices of Fox & Farley, Attorneys at law, in Clinton or Knoxville if you require immediate legal assistance.

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